Stefano Sollima is an Italian director and screenwriter. He is best known for his gritty crime films like ACAB - All Cops Are Bastards and Suburra. Stefano recently directed Sicario: Day of the Soldado, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Sicario.
Screen Rant sat down with Stefano and talked about his introduction to the film, the crafting of tension, his research on coyotes and drug cartels, his collaboration with writer Taylor Sheridan, making the sequel a unique experience, the absence of Emily Blunt’s character, the different dynamic with Benicio del Toro’s character, the use of sign language in the film, the subject of immigration and people’s awareness of larger issues, and his upcoming work on a Call of Duty film.
SR: First of all, my interview is going to be very conversational, so we can just talk. I love this movie. I love the first one. And to me I was kind of like, wow it's so interesting because I know that they announced the second installment almost right after the first one. How did you jump on board?
Stefano: I was working on another project with a producer. The same producer at Black Label Media. So, Molly Smith had a really interesting project, written by James Ellroy. And then in the process of it, I knew about this upcoming Soldado script. And so, they showed me and asked, do you want to read this. Of course, because I love the first Sicario. So, I read the script and I was crazy for it. Because it’s pretty close to everything I did. So, I thought that was a good transition to different work. Meaning to start working on a project here in Hollywood without losing my specificity. That is the, I think it's one of the trickiest parts during the transition.
SR: Now, one thing that the first Sicario did extremely well was build tension. And this film does the same thing. I almost felt like the whole time I was gripping onto my arm chairs. And can you talk to me about crafting the tension in this film. Because it's massively done it as well as the music. The music is perfect for this. The composer is great. But can you talk to me about how you build the tension in this? And when you read it, how did you figure out which beats you wanted to hit?
Stefano: I think it's all the script. All the movie was based on the idea to a build a constant, even slow, tension. To get to some point where you have an explosion, super-fast, super quick, explosion of evidence. But I think that then basically the tension is to manage in the editing room while you're shooting the timing of everything. By giving the impression to the audience that something is going to happen for sure. And trying to delay as much as you can, the moment where something happened for real. So, I think it's something that you achieve from the script, of course, the brilliant script of Taylor Sheridan. And then you do it while you're shooting. And then you keep doing in the editing without for example the music. This creates this tension. You know that something is going to happen, but you don't know when and what.
SR: Because one of the most intense scenes in the film to me, was where they’re out to market and the three guys come in. Like that exactly. It was sudden, it was built up, and I was waiting for it. And then just kind of happens. And it made me reflect on a lot of the tragedies we've had here in the United States, with things like that. How much research did you do into coyotes and the drug cartel and even terrorists for that matter?
Stefano: A lot. Let’s say this. On the drugs I was pretty deep in because of Gomorrah that I did in Europe. And for ZeroZeroZero, it is a project I was writing while I was doing Soldado. I did a lot of research on the coyotes. So how and which kind of communities normally deal with the physical transportation of the immigrants. So, I did a lot of research. Because I feel there's this part of our job. Not to make movie that’s entertaining, but also gives you a reflect a little bit the world you're living in. So, I think it's really part of the process.
SR: Yeah. And definitely this movie definitely informs, I think, a mass audience of that struggle. Because I saw a documentary about coyotes taking people from Mexico to the United States. And I was like, wow, this is like, what I saw in the film was like almost what I saw in the documentary. And it's gritty, it's dark, and that's the way it is. One of the things I wanted to talk to you about was Mr. Sheridan. He's a great writer. How closely did you collaborate with him? And can you talk to me about how your collaboration process worked with him?
Stefano: Yeah. I mean we worked a lot together. And I love him. He’s amazing and super talented writer. We started working from the first draft. As soon as I was attached to the movie, we started working together. And then, I felt the initial script, we basically did two things. One was to trim it. Because it was much more complex than it is now. It was really huge. And then we tried to condense it in order to enhance the soul, the real core, the emotional core of the movie. And then we worked also in pushing Matt and Alejandro. One against the other. It wasn't really like this in the first draft. And then I felt it was really important because it was a real unexpected turn in the second chapter of a franchise. Of the Sicario wars. And then we worked mostly on this, to trim it. And to give more importance to the conflict between Matt and Alejandro. That is a big part of the movie.
SR: Right. I was just going to ask you with Sicario, this movie in particular, is very interesting to me mainly because this is a continuation from the first film with Alejandro, the character.
You don't need the setup of the first to enjoy this film at all. Because everything that you need to know is explained in this movie. Which I actually really appreciate. Because it's a standalone film on its own. Was that decision intentional? So, you don't have to make sure that, hey, you have to watch Sicario 1 to enjoy Sicario 2? Because I think you can enjoy Sicario 2 just fine by itself.
Stefano: Let's say that some part I insisted to edit in order to get exactly this. To me to create a unique experience, even if it is a sequel. So, let’s say this. If you have seen the first one, you're going to enjoy more. Because in the first one you have two characters that are mostly introduced by Emily Blunt’s character. And she was sort of a surrogate for the audience. And also, it'd be a moral point of view in this area. So, she was judging them continuously. And by not having her character, of course, now you have two characters. And then they’re going to show for what they are without anyone as a filter in-between. So, I think it's really interesting. Because then you are going to learn that they are a little bit different from what you saw in the first one. And it’s an interesting process both ways. If you have seen the first one, you're going to enjoy it. But then if you haven't seen it, you can enjoy it because it's a standalone movie. And everything you need to appreciate, and to be involved in the movie, you already have.
SR: Exactly. That's what I appreciate so much about this film, is exactly what you just said now. Speaking of Emily Blunt, it's hard to overlook the absence of her character in this one. However, how early on did you know she wouldn't be returning? And how did that shape this story?
Stefano: This is Taylor Sheridan’s decision. In the first draft I read, that was the first draft Soldado, she wasn't there. So, I think that in Taylor's mind, it was always to create sort of three chapters on the same world, exploring part of the characters who were in the first film. And so, I think what I read was exactly as it is now. Without the character. But I feel that makes sense, because this was a smart way to introduce the audience to a world. And you do it through a character who is like an alien. She comes and then she discovered the real face of this war. We are constantly dueling against the cartel. But in this case, the border between the law and criminals are really, really thin. So, I think it's a good introduction to a work. But then in the second, you don’t to need to be introduced anymore. You need to go, and go deep into the characters. And explore better the dynamics between them.
SR: Yeah. And it's really interesting seeing Benicio and Josh play with that a little bit. Because it's their relationship and the film's very intriguing to me. And I love it. So, while the drug trade continues to roll on, it seems that Sicario was a contained story. What inspired the sequel, or story elements that made the follow up necessary. Because you spoke a little bit about Sheridan wanting to create this world. And I think you said three chapters. So, where's it going next, if you had to guess? Or what do you think the focus would be on next?
Stefano: I don’t know really. Ask Taylor. But I feel that the issues, the topics we explore in this movie are a bit different on the first one. Because the he first one was more on drugs and this one, it's more on immigration. And then I feel that immigration now is an issue all over the world. It's an important moment for all over Europe to explore it. Of course, we are not a documentary. We are an entertaining movie. So, this is just part of the background there. The frame.
SR: Benicio del Toro was like an element of nature in the first installment. Because he was so unpredictable, which kept the tension high. Now Alejandro is at the center of the narrative. How does that affect his character?
Stefano: A lot. Because you have in the first one, and the beginning of ours, he's a lone wolf. Moved by the rage and with the desire for revenge. So, it's like a big square as a character. And then during our story, you start to know him better. And then the fact that he starts protecting the girl, the girl that was the daughter of the guy who killed his family, created an interesting conflict in him. And also, sort of a moral dilemma when he has to decide if to get rid of her or to protect her by going against everything, even his own friend. And the war that they are creating. So, I think that, in this movie, you have the chance to explore much better, have different nuances from Benicio del Toro’s character. And then this makes the movie more passionate, more visceral.
SR: And something else that I found so intriguing and I really liked it a lot. Because you built tension without noise, with ASL, American sign language. I thought that was brilliant. How much went into that? Because that even seemed as a challenge in itself, making sure that was executed properly.
Stefano: Yeah. But I mean, I'm obsessed by detail. So, I cast an actor, who’s an amazing talent. Then he worked, just for these scenes, literally we did two scenes in the movie. And he worked two months with the teacher. And then he was amazing doing it. He did all the sound and the language was perfect. But also, all the expressions, to express the words that were. I was amazed.
SR: That was brilliant. I love that piece of storytelling.
Stefano: And also, from a rhythmical perspective, it’s cool. Because it comes from right after the convoy shoot. The crazy shootout. And then it gives a sort of suspended romantic atmosphere. So, it's like you start changing.
SR: Yeah. The tonal shift.
Stefano: Yeah. And because of the scene. You’re in the silent, you feel the desert, the emptiness of the space.
SR: I hadn't looked at it like that, but you're completely right. Because it is a definite tonal shift. And you're right, it makes you feel like it's an isolation in a bit. A lot of people don't learn about the problems from the world that they live in. They learned about it from reading and movies and TV. This series takes a hard look at the drug trade across the Mexican border, as well as immigration and violence as a result of the drug trade industry. What do you hope people take away from Sicario 2?
Stefano: I think that, I mean, the purpose of the movie is not to educate people. It’s not for sure to give an answer. You can make some interesting questions in a movie, and that's it. If you do this kind of movie, of course, they are based on reality. So, it's good, when the movie is done, after the emotion that you get from the movie, as an entertainment piece, you have something that makes you curious about the world around you. Probably from there on, you can start to talk amongst yourself. We can fathom a little bit. Something that is an aspect, an issue that is reflected in your life every day. So, I I don't think that the movie must be educational. It must be intriguing. It must ask a bit of a question to the audience.
SR: The Mexican border and the drug trade has been a political talking point for decades. However, it's taken a new face in the past couple of years with the current administration.
Stefano: For hundreds of years. The same from the beginning of the last century.
SR: Yeah. This administration in particular, it's been really highlighted. You kind of talked about it a bit, that it starts the conversation. This movie can start sparking the conversation, spark the interest of seeing that kind of stuff. But when you really take it as a whole, the Sicario franchise, do you think it'll inform people. To highlight certain situations that are going on around them in the world?
Stefano: Yeah. I think, yes. Personally, yes. Of course, not being a documentary, so without being exhaustive in the exploration of the world. Because, of course, we need, just what is necessary for the movie. But, of course, I think that the movie can give the people a little bit more knowledge on an issue that are a part of their world and that normally are ignored. Not except for the position that some politician takes for propaganda or whatever. But I mean, this part of their life. Then of course, through a movie. But as an adult, for me, it's more that this is something that can start. If you're curious to see it, to understand more what is going on. There are plenty of documentaries and journalistic pieces where you can really learn about this situation. A movie, of course, is partial through definition.
SR: I'm switching gears for a second. E3 is going on here in LA. Are you familiar with E3?
SR: And I know that Call of Duty is a big franchise. I was just out there. And Call of Duty is huge. I'm excited that you're doing it. Because I think, after seeing this especially, it's like, oh, I can't wait to see what you do with Call of Duty. What are some ideas that you may have for it that may differ from, because I don't even look at Call of Duty, it doesn't have to be a video game movie. It can just be a movie. So, what do you kind of have in store for Call of Duty?
Stefano: I can’t tell you. But for sure it’s going to be a real movie.
SR: I'm excited about that. Well, thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure.
Stefano: Thank you.
- Sicario: Day of the Soldado/Sicario 2 (2018) release date: Jun 29, 2018